Design programme

Programmes describe the sequence in which tasks must be carried out so that a project (or part of a project) can be completed on time. Programmes will often identify:

Dates and durations allocated to tasks.
A critical path (the sequence of critical tasks upon which the overall duration of the programme is dependent).
Tasks which can only be carried out after other tasks have been completed.
Tasks which can be carried out simultaneously.
‘Float’ within tasks. These are delays that can be incurred without affecting the critical path. Identifying float can be helpful in highlighting where it may be possible to transfer resources to tasks that are on the critical path.
The need for specific resources and their lead time.
A design programme (or design schedule) describes the sequence of design tasks from the initial appointment of the design team to the completion of the design. For straight-forward projects this might be a simple gantt chart showing each consultants’ planned resources for each stage. For more complex projects it may be a very detailed document showing interrelated and interdependent design inputs from consultants, sub-consultants, the contractor, sub-contractors and suppliers.

A design programme should be prepared by the lead designer with input from all the other designers on the project. This should not be a paper exercise that simply records what has already happened or what is likely to happen. For a programme to be effective, it must be used as a tool to help plan activities and identify where additional resources may be required. The lead designer should keep the design programme up to date, and make changes to reflect the project programme. They should monitor the design programme against actual activities and report progress to the client.

The design programme should be aligned to the main project programme, and may work backwards from key completion or delivery dates. It should indicate procurement periods for major items and reasonable durations for design approval procedures. Without such information, design programmes can be unrealistic or unachievable.

A design programme defining deliverables might be incorporated into consultant’s appointment agreements, however this is difficult to enforce (due in part to activities of third parties outside the consultant’s control such as planning authorities, client or stakeholder actions, consultation processes etc) and generally, the only recourse the client has is to threaten termination for non-performance in the event of consistent programme failure.

If not all the design information required to construct the works has been prepared or issued when the main contractor is appointed, then an information release schedule may be prepared which gives dates for the release of information from the consultant team. An information release schedule may form part of the tender documentation or contract documents. However, consultants can be reluctant to produce information release schedules for because of concerns about being held to the dates on the schedule (even where the progress of construction does not require information when the information release schedule proposes it). Failure to keep to the dates set out in the information release schedule may then be a matter for which the contractor attempts to claim an extension of time an loss and /or expense.

Information release schedules should allow for the realistic resourcing of consultants staff by giving a sensible spread of workload. Consultants must ensure that they are entirely comfortable with the information release schedule prior to it being incorporated into any contract documents.

If there is no information release schedule, the contractor’s master programme may include dates for the release of information, which the consultant team may comment on, but should not approve. If there is no sort of schedule at all, it may be sensible for the contractor and the consultant team to agree one. Even without an information release schedule however, the contract is likely to require that information necessary for the contractor to complete the works is made available to them at a time that it is reasonably necessary for them to receive it.

Where contractors or sub-contractors will be contributing to the design, it is sensible for tender documents to ask for a design programme to be submitted within a certain period after the contract has been placed. Contractors may appoint their own design managers particularly where there is sub-contractor input. It is reasonable for the design team to insist on an even workload of drawing submittals flowing from the contractor’s design programme so it can balance its resources in relation to the comment and approval process.

A design programme may be part of a wider design management plan which might also include:

A design responsibility matrix.
Schedules of drawings to be produced by each discipline/specialist.
Schedules of information required/release dates.
The size and format of drawing types.
Procedures for CAD / BIM (see BIM execution plan).
Estimates of staff hours to be spent by designers on each element or drawing.
Monitoring of design resources expended compared to planned estimates.
Initiating procedures for design changes.
Requirements for collateral warranties.
Key dates for reviews.
On projects where BIM has been adopted, a Master Information Delivery Plan (MIDP) may be prepared, setting out when project information is to be prepared, by whom and using what protocols and procedures. The preparation of this information might be managed by a BIM Information Manager.

NB The RIBA Plan of Work 2013 defines the design programme as: ‘A programme setting out the strategic dates in relation to the design process. It is aligned with the Project Programme but is strategic in its nature, due to the iterative nature of the design process, particularly in the early stages.’


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